Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Last Food and Coffee Shops


A few book reviews are in order after my brief hiatus away. A rag tag collection of books on English food, coffee and something quite frightening.

The Last Food of England by Marwood Yeatman is in a similar vein to The Taste of Britain which I recommended a few months ago. It's part culinary history of England, part encyclopedia of English food and part lament at the loss of what was once so bountiful. It mourns the food we have lost and the food on the endangered list, hence the "last" in the title. Unfortunately, Marwood isn't quite as eloquent as Laura Mason and Catherine Brown who did a masterly job with The Taste of Britain. It's a sort of Daily Mail reader does English food and gets in a terrible state about it. It's actually, probably unintentionally, quite funny in Victor Meldrew-ish type way. I am recommending it with the caveat that you'll probably want to stick Marwood's head in the last domestic faggot oven in use after a while, but it's got a fair few historical gems in there, and makes for an interesting, if slightly frustrating read.

The Coffee-House: A Cultural History by Markman Ellis is a history of the coffee house from the very first in London in 1652 (imported from Mecca, Constantinople and Cairo) to the vast empires of Starbucks and Costa Coffee today. From the role coffee has played in our culture artistically and politically to the slightly sinister notion of "the lactification of the coffee house" (a turn of phrase I loved!) by the massive chains, it's a scholarly account of just how important a drink it is, fermenting revolution and teenage rebellion through the ages. I liked it, but then I'm a sucker for these cultural histories of food stuffs of which there now seem to be for every item in your pantry. I'm waiting for Marmite: The Great Divide. Maybe I should just write it myself.

Living and Eating by John Pawson and Annie Bell is possibly the most frightening cookbook I've ever laid my eyes on. This is not a recommendation. This is something to be leafed though in horror. The recipes are fine, possibly a little dictatorial in tone but it all looks fine and dandy in the mix this with that stakes. The truly horrific thing is the large swathe of the book that basically tells you if your kitchen doesn't look like theirs (all minimal and shiny and expensive) you may as well fuck off. It's a cross between food porn and house porn and I found myself shouting at it. Shouting at a book is never a good sign. It's the worst masturbatory puff that I've ever seen. It's one thing to tell people how to cook, but wrapping it up in this sort of lifestyle bullshit is condescending in the extreme. Take a look for shits and giggles.

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